Saturday, February 13, 2021

A Valentine soup

(With no new stories to offer, I present a decade old one that is topical and sure to bring a smile).

There was always a riot of laughter in the common room for women in that office. The women employees often escaped the boredom of facing the computer monitor all the time  by rushing in here for some fun and  juicy gossip that were never in dearth. You could see clusters of ladies talking animatedly  or in hushed tones depending upon the explosive nature and the secrecy that shrouded the matter.

 It could hover around a plain topic like the new hairstyle of the staid Angela or the  plunging neckline of vampish Vanita or the stale smell of upma cooked with heavy dose of hing that emanated from Soundarya’s lunch box or just the rude behaviour of the manager Manickavasagam or the unctuous smile and double entendres of the aged Muthuswamy iyer.

But more often than not, the chatter revolved over the known  Romeos and stylish hunks  of the office whom they loved to flirt with  and guessing who could be their likely quarries. Some even boasted of their dates with them. There were a few prudes who pretended not to be paying attention to what is being said but their ears actually tuned sharp not to miss even one word. It is in this room that reputations are made or marred as nothing escaped their hawk-like eyes, sharp ears and wide mouths.

However, we are concerned now about Namitha in the same office who has fallen in love with Sekhar her colleague, a handsome chap who was quiet and deep. Very few knew about him as he kept his counsel to himself. Namitha was attracted to him when one day he offered to help her reconcile some discrepancy in her work. They stayed late and it took much effort to locate the mistake. That was about a year back and since then she has been dating him. Whenever she broached the subject of marriage, he was evasive and pleaded for some time till his younger sister got married. He never took her to his home and kept his love for her  away from his parents. The one thing that bothered her much  was his miserly  nature and whatever gifts he gave her were cheap stuff. Namitha’s parents were affluent and she was accustomed to use only classy things.

Even this, she did not mind but upset about what he did two weeks back. They took a day off from work and left for Mahabalipuram on his motorbike to spend the day amongst the rock temples and the beach. When it was lunch time he took her to an expensive restaurant for food. He ordered many items and it was a fabulous lunch. When the bill came Sekhar had quietly gone away to wash room. She then remembered he always did so making her pay and quite often pleaded that he had inadvertently forgotten his purse or the card. She paid for the lunch and when he returned he took no notice of her settling the bill nor did he mention one word of apology.

A few days later, Namitha pulled out Sajita another colleague from the common room to a corner  and said to her, “I wish to talk something personal in private with you.” She knew Sajita was an ex friend of Sekhar and that they moved away after a short but intense friendship.

“Tell me, Namith, what I can do for you” she asked

“It is about Sekhar. You are aware of my friendship with him for more than a year. There are two things that worry me. I wish to seek your advice.” Namitha said

“Proceed, I am listening” Sajitha replied

"Whenever I broach about marriage he recedes into his shell and tells about his sister’s pending marriage. I have a suspicion he just wants to prolong the friendship without any commitment. Secondly I find him tight fisted. He never opens his purse and makes me pay for all expenses. Though I can afford, I do not want to be tied to a stingy person. I am also not sure whether he is open with me as many times I find his mobile switched off for long time” Namitha said.

“I am not surprised. Let me take you to Sukanya who put me wise about that rogue before I broke away from him.”

Sukanya laughed when she heard from Sajitha and said with a smile  “So you are his current prey, Namitha?. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing and a scoundrel of the first water. He has no sister and it is all hogwash. He has had   fun with many girls at their expense and when he loses interest, he will go after new pastures. With his meagre salary he cannot entertain the many girls with whom he has had liaison. He should be thrown out soonest no doubt  but I have a suggestion before you ditch him”. She pulled Namitha close to her and whispered something with a naughty smile.

Three days later on the eve of Valentine day, Namitha took him to a five-star hotel saying she was in a mood to celebrate the Valentine spirit. She ordered a lavish supper and some costly drinks for him. She giggled and snuggled making  him think she was an easy conquest for the evening. Just before the last course she excused herself to the restroom. Sekhar happily and leisurely  enjoyed the drinks dreaming about the pleasant time ahead. When the server brought the bill, she was not to be seen. He waited for nearly 45 minutes squirming in the seat and there was no trace of her. The server had come to the table thrice already. This time, he truly, had neither his purse nor the credit card.  It is not necessary to relate in detail the unpleasant and humiliating outcome of his failure to settle the expensive bill.

The gossip doing the rounds ever since in the women’s common room was that he was in a real soup at the hotel that evening and that he was seen cleaning the dishes, sweeping the floors and wiping the tables till someone brought him  the money late in the night. They were jubilant that Namitha paid him back in the same coin before wisely ditching him as if he were a real plague.

 

 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The ancestral house

“Chandra, I heard that you are visiting Bengaluru on work and may visit Chennai also by month end. You never tell me anything,” grumbled Singaram to her son.

“Who told you? It is not yet finalized” replied Chandra

“Your son Nattu told me and that he would also be accompanying you. In case you are going, it is after a gap of many years. I wish to ask of you a favour. It is not that I wish to accompany you. There is nothing there for me after your father disappeared years back leaving no clue about his whereabouts,” replied Singaram.

“Yes, Amma, I promised Nattu to take him along as he evinced keen interest in visiting India. I will have to hurry now for a video conference. Can we discuss this leisurely over dinner?” he said as he left.

It was in the evening around 7pm when the family was in the living room, Chandra asked, “Amma, what was it you wanted from me?”

She kept quiet for a while lost in thought and when prompted again she started with a long sigh, “It is several years since your father mysteriously disappeared after he visited his village home near Kumbakonam. His ancestral house was there and he had visited it earlier a couple of times. There was no hassle till your grandfather was alive staying with us. The earlier tenant who lived there was remitting without fail to the bank a small amount as rent. The rent was collected more to ensure that the ownership was not disputed at a later stage. There was no thought of disposing the house till your grandfather was alive.

 When that tenant who was a single died after your grandfather’s demise, I suggested to your father to dispose of the very old house as we had already sold away all the lands and keeping the house served no purpose. Your dad was averse to selling as it was the only remnant connecting him to his roots though all his relatives had sold away their homes and lands and shifted to distant cities and even abroad.

Adamant as he was by nature, he fixed a new tenant without verifying his antecedents or got any reference. Your dad, a gullible man, just introduced the new tenant to the elderly village head but had no written rental agreement made out. For six months or so the small rent was remitted regularly by money order and then received at irregular intervals till it stopped completely. Besides reminding the tenant about the rental dues by post cards, your dad did not visit the village from Delhi where we were residing. The amount was too small to take the long trip and he was postponing it. Meanwhile he learnt to his dismay the village head had passed away.”

 She paused for a moment, when Chandra intervened to say, “I know all that and dad’s disappearance, Amma. Tell me quickly what is it you want me to do now.”

“Please do not be impatient. I was explaining for Nattu’s benefit also and I will be done soon. You had moved long ago to US for post-graduation and got settled here in US on a good job. After your father’s retirement, we continued to reside in Delhi. You had also chosen your classmate as your partner and married her with our consent. Life was going smoothly till your dad suddenly decided to visit his village to evict the tenant and dispose of the house. When he asked me to accompany him to visit the nearby temples, I had foolishly declined.”

“What happened thereafter, grandma?” asked Nattu.

“Listen carefully. He presumably went alone to his village, where he knew none, to accost the tenant with a view to evict him. When there was no message or call from him after once from Chennai and my calls elicited no reply save the auto message that the phone seemed switched off, I got scared. I requested my cousin at Chennai to visit the village to find your father’s whereabouts and make a police complaint, if necessary. He left the next day itself and met the tenant only to be told that your father had not visited him. The tenant also expressed his concern about his missing and wondered whether your dad had changed the plan. My cousin met the new head of the village only to draw a blank and both of them went to lodge a complaint with the nearest police station. After some enquiries, the police informed after a month that there was no evidence of your father having visited the village or met anyone and was not traceable. They were still trying though.

Chandra, I have a strong suspicion the police have closed the case. Till this date we have not heard from them or your father. He is not a spiritual person to renounce the family and to take to forests or mutts. I think something amiss must have happened and we have no clue.”

“Is the tenant still continuing and what about his eviction?” asked Nattu.

“When my cousin spoke to him a year or so back about our wish that he vacate the house after paying the dues, he got the curt response from the tenant that he owed no dues and suggested that the owner can contact him in person. In the circumstances, I want you, Chandra, to visit the village and get him evicted. Pray, do not go alone. Take someone from police with you. I remember his name is Varada kutti,” concluded Singaram.

“Surely I will visit and try to get him evicted. I will also sell the house at whatever best price we get though there may be legal hassles when dad’s whereabouts are not clear and we do not have any documents.

It was about three weeks later when the work at Bengaluru was over, Chandra met by chance at Chennai his old classmate who had joined civil services and was working in state government. With his help, it was arranged that an inspector of police from Kumbakonam would accompany Chandra to the village.

On the second day morning, when Chandra, Nattu and the inspector got down at the entrance to the village that hardly had three lanes and was looking for someone to guide them to the main lane that housed a small temple. The ancestral house was the fourth house from the temple.

It was then Nattu suddenly spoke with excitement,” Appa, I think I know the place as it is very familiar. It is close by on the road to the right,” and started walking ahead of them.

Angered, Chandra shouted, “Stop there, you idiot. This is the first time you are visiting this country and you are blabbering about your familiarity.”

“Appa, what you say is true but strange as it is something makes me very familiar with this place and I wish to run to the house. Sorry, my mind is clouded with vague memories that I cannot restrain myself and there is a hot flash all over my body,” the boy replied.

The inspector intervened to say,” Mr. Chandra, we will know in a minute if what the boy is telling is true. Let us ask him to guide us. Please do not restrain him. I will discuss about this more later.”

They followed the boy who walked confidently and turned right to see the main lane with a dilapidated small temple at one end. Most of the houses were tiled and in poor condition. There were a few new constructions. They went to the temple, a very small structure with only one room doing the duty of sanctum. A lamp was burning outside the locked and broken doors. Both Chandra and the inspector stared at each other meaningfully at Nattu’s inexplicable familiarity.

They walked to the fourth house and the main door was open. When Chandra knocked the door, a tall middle aged man of about 50 years came out. His height was contrary to the suffix kutti (small)to his name.

“Are you Mr. Varada kutti? My father is the owner of this house. After he came here several years back, he went missing and has not been traced till now. I wish to talk to you,” said Chandra.

As Varada kutti saw the police inspector in his uniform, Chandra could discern a streak of fear flash through his face. He deferentially invited them inside the long hall. While they sat in cane chairs, Varada kutti sat on a wooden swing (oonjal). He asked the boy to sit by his side on the swing. The boy looked at him in an unfriendly manner and sat over the lap of his dad.

Chandra explained the purpose of his visit and asked him to vacate the house within a week as he was planning to sell the house before his return to US.

“A week is too short a time. I can vacate in two months. If you are planning to sell the house, I am willing to buy at whatever price such old houses are being sold,” replied Varada kutti.

It was then Chandra and inspector heard a shriek from Nattu from inside the house. He had obviously gone inside unnoticed by all the three of them. The inspector rushed inside to the courtyard adjoining a kitchen to see the boy highly agitated with his eyes shining animatedly and jumping at one corner of the courtyard.

Chandra shouted at the boy scolding, “Why are you behaving like a mad cap and possessed since we came here? What is bothering you? Come away from that place.”

“Appa, I felt a hard blow on my head by a hammer and hear recurring noises on the ground,” bewailed the young boy even as he was jumping with a faraway look.

Chandra with a worried look dragged the crying boy after a tight slap away from that corner.

“Mr. Chandra, do not be rash. Let me handle this. This is a serious matter not to be ignored. Please be seated. I will talk to the boy,” he said and turned to Varada kutti to tell him in stern voice,” Do not leave this house till we are finished and be seated with Chandra.”

He took Nattu to another side of the courtyard and putting his arm around the boy gently said, “I am inclined believe you. You can freely tell me anything else relating to this matter freely.”

“I am scared to be here but I am sure some mystery underneath there where I stood. I know the entire house and nothing has since changed except that corner,” the boy replied.

“What else you remember? What were the noises you repeatedly heard on the floor? There is no evidence of any digging and re-flooring the corner,” asked the inspector without any leading question.

Looking at him vacantly as if he was in a trance and with the body sweating heavily, the boy explained to no one in particular, “My memory is hazy but I distinctly remember the heavy blow on head with a blunt object and the faint sound of earth being dug out for long time before everything turned black.”

“Whom are you referring to when you say I? You have never been here earlier,” gently prodded the inspector.

“My mind is confused. Can I have some water?” asked the boy.

“Surely, finish quickly expressing the thoughts passing through your mind before it becomes blank,” said the inspector.

When he saw Varada kutti getting up on the pretext of getting water, the inspector pressed him down.” Do not stir. This my order,” he admonished the tenant and turned to Chandra to get the village head there immediately.

As he waited for village head, he stroked the boy gently and said, “Have no fear. We will find out the truth soon if you are pretty sure.”

“I am confused about me but am positive that something mysterious under the place where I stood,” he said

When the village head came, the inspector took him aside introduced himself with his card and briefed him about the suspicious disappearance of the owner after a visit to his house to get the tenant evicted and the unexpected prescience of the boy about some assault and possibly burial under the ground.

 “He seems familiar with the village and guided us to the house correctly on his first visit to this village. I have heard cases of a few young children make statements of past lives. I learn the boy is very bright and has had no mental issues or hallucinations earlier. Since there has been no clue to the owner’s disappearance after a purported visit, I need your help in getting the place dug out. Keep also some men on the front and rear side to prevent the tenant from attempting an escape.”

In an hour, the cat was out of the bag when they found the skeleton of a body with shreds clothes on it and a broken mobile without any sim card.

When the inspector pulled up Varada kutti by his collar and asked him to explain the presence of the skeleton amid hostile stares of all the men around, he broke down and fell at Inspector’s feet owning up the crime in his greed to acquire the house. The man was taken into custody.

I will skip the details about the subsequent events like last rites, the taking over the house and letting out the house free for a primary school after repairs. Chandra also donated some amount for the upkeep and maintenance of the temple.

Though the outcome turned sad for Singaram, the family decided not to broach the subject of past memories to Nattu and allowed them to be forgotten over a time.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Mera jootha hai Japani, ye patloon Englishthani...

(This is a light hearted old story to remember Raj Kapoor on his birthday )

I am no hard core criminal. I neither assault people nor touch my victims. I just pilfer whatever I can easily conceal in my pocket. The modus operandi is simple. I wear neatly pressed clothes and well-polished shoes. My handsome face, curly hair, my good height and soft speech give some respectability. I have a computer with CorelDraw facility and I make laminated identity cards to suit my purpose. One day I would be a census enumerator, another day market surveyor or a fund raiser for charitable causes, and some days I don ochre robes on behalf of fake religious institutions/temples. I used to wonder at my own bewildering variety of professions I choose daily.

Generally, I choose the late afternoons when the sun is less severe for my work. Where I find many inmates in a house I move away quickly. Where a lady or old man is alone and gullible enough to invite me to the living room for enumeration, survey or whatever I tell them, I take casually a quick look around the hall. Then with a sigh I take my kerchief for wiping the perspiration and make a request for a glass of cool water. When she/he goes away to fetch it, I quickly pocket whatever is not prominent and what I can easily lay my hands on before they return. After pleasantries and a quick survey, I make a fast move to another complex slightly away. If I am pretty lucky in one house I usually stop the activity for the day. This was adequate for the day’s expense. You see, I am no greedy person.

Today being my birthday, I wore a blue jeans and a new   colorful T shirt with cream and brown stripes. But the first house I visited could not be considered ideal though the young lady was alone and credulous. But there was hardly anything of value in the hall save her cheap mobile on a show case. I try hard not to leave any house  empty handed and had to filch the cheap cell phone. After drinking water, I left in a hurry after giving her some form to fill in and telling her that I would collect it the next day.

When I rang the bell at the next apartment that I visited in the adjacent street, an attractive young lady in her early thirties was talking on her mobile. When she saw me there was a look of surprise, may be attracted by my personality enhanced by my new clothes. She smiled at me, opened the grill door for me to enter and said “Just one second”. She talked for a couple of minutes more and concluded saying” OK, I have a visitor. I will talk to you later”.

The apartment looked rich with showcase brimming with all curios and costly clocks, crystal wares, ivory idols of gods and many other things. When I started with the usual refrain about a glass of water, she asked “Coke, Orange or Sprite?” I gave her my charming smile and said “Anything you offer me”

As she went in to bring the cool drink, I quickly pocketed a few things when the wretched mobile rang. It was not mine but the cheap one I stole at the other house. It started singing in shrill and loud tone an old tune of Raj Kapoor in Shri 420 ”Mera jootha hai Japani, ye patloon Englishthani...”  Before I could remove it from my pocket to silence it, the lady came out smiling and said “What an old tune you have installed? “ She saw the other mobile in my hand and exclaimed, ‘You seem to have two”

I offered a weak explanation that it was my wife’s and I had brought it for some minor repair. Meanwhile two burly security men of the complex entered. The lady’s smile faded and she asked the security not to allow me to escape. “Mister, I knew you are a fake. Your earlier visit was unfortunately to my friend’s flat. She was telling me on her landline about your visit and your stealing her mobile. She was just bewailing her carelessness and we never knew you would come here. Lucky for her and me, you came to my place and I rang her number from the kitchen to make sure you are the culprit. The mobile whose tune I knew gave you away. Give back the mobile and the things you pocketed here. The security men would hold you till the police arrive to take you.”

As I swore under my tongue “You bloody b***h”, she laughed hysterically at my sorry plight.

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Who was it in skeleton costume?

 

It was the last week of October. The pandemic confined Sumitra and Sudhakar rao to their home with very rare visits outside. They have been living in Boston for more than 10 years. The weather was getting cooler, the leaves were changing their colors and some falling announcing the onset of winter soon. They were on a long drive towards North to see nature’s beauty in many of its transient forms. The trees were lined up on both sides of the road with their leaves in various hues with scarlet and gold dominating the landscape. Little the trees were aware that they would soon be naked waiting for spring to clothe them again. It might be a refreshing change the couple thought from the dull home and duller routine of working all day.

“Why are you morose, Sumi? Watch out the captivating scenes outside. We came out primarily to watch the nature in its splendor,” asked Sudhakar rao.

Sumitra did not reply but looked at him intently wondering at the question.

“I know. You do not have to explain. No point in grieving over things over which we have no control. Our son Sundar came in our lives like a fleeting star only to vanish away. I know it is a less than a year. Have fond memories of him but do not grieve,” Sudhakar consoled her.

“In another three days we have Halloween. He used to pester me for different types of costumes each year and remind me of the candies to be bought. I will miss him going along with his friends in his costume. If he is a bit late, his friends would be knocking at our door,” she said in sobbing tone.

“Let us stop on the way back at Target to buy some candies for the children. Let us not deprive them of their joy and expectations because of our grief,” suggested Sudhakar.

Both of them lost interest in the scenic drive and started driving back home. There was total silence till they found a Target store open. When he went near the candies section, she went to Halloween costumes section to relive her last visit to buy costume for Sundar. There were many kids and moms with their masks keeping distance from each other.

The shelves featured costumes in many varieties mostly in loud black, red and yellow to appear as skeletons, witches, ghosts and in many other scary designs. Last year Sundar wanted a skeleton costume in ghost form but she insisted him to take a fire fighter costume. After much discussion, she agreed to his compromise proposal for a firefighter disguise for the year and the extra one in black and red skeleton to be used in the subsequent year. He was jumping with joy at his acquisitions and also made sure she bought Eclairs, his favourite along with other candies. Unable to bear the torment of sad memory, she came away quickly from costume section.

She found her husband waiting with packets of candies. “Have you bought some Eclairs? Sundar loved them so much,” Sumitra enquired.

“Oh I am sorry, I didn’t buy. Let me get it,” he said as he rushed inside.

Three days later it was Halloween day. Not wishing Sundar to miss the fun even when he was no more, she bought two carved pumpkins with lamps inside to be lit in the porch. She had kept baskets filled with candies ready even before dusk when the kids usually visit homes.

It was 7pm.Sudhakar was busy in his room chatting with some of his cousins when she heard the door bell. She rushed to see five urchins in their costumes with their faces hidden except for eyes and mouth. One of them looked like Spiderman, another a hair-rising monster, yet another but short figure as a bunny rabbit along with another looking like a witch. A little behind she saw the fifth figure in skeleton costume in black and red resembling a ghost identical to what she bought for Sundar.

She hurried inside and brought the baskets of candies for them to help themselves. She asked the fifth boy standing behind the four ,”Why are you standing behind others? Come forward and stand in line with your four friends.”

“Mrs.Rao, we are only four. In fact, we wished to take Sundar with us as he normally accompanies us. Is he not well or what?” said a boy turning around to see only four including him and added” I think you are imagining,” with all the three others affirming in chorus.

“No, I see clearly the fifth boy in the skeleton robe before me as clear as the palm in my hand” and asked the boy in the disguise of skeleton, “Why don’t you come forward? Have you taken the candies? You seem shy,”

When she heard the fifth boy asking in squeaky voice,” Where are the Eclairs? You know that I love them so much?”, she almost fainted crying,” Are you my dearest Sundar? Won’t you call me mom and speak to me?”

The bewildered American boys looked at her in utter disbelief while one of them pressed the bell bringing Sudhakar into the scene.

“Sir, we are only four but Mrs. Rao insists that we are five and that the fifth is Sundar. Do you see him here by any chance?”

“No, I see only four of you. As we lost our son Sundar, may be she is overcome by grief and imagining. She will be fine in a short while. Thank you for pressing the bell,” explained Sudhakar. The four boys said sorry in unison and quietly left.

Meanwhile she rushed inside to Sundar’s room and opened the closet looking for the skeleton costume she bought extra last year at Sundar’s insistence to be used subsequently. Lo! it was not seen at the place she had kept. She searched the closet completely only to draw a blank. Many questions like “Where had the costume gone? Who could have taken it? Is it not the same one worn by the fifth boy? Is it Sundar as he asked for Éclair?” tormented her to no end as she wailed in grief.

Sudhakar, no wiser than the baffled boys, put his arm around Sumitra who was inconsolably crying and led her to the bedroom.

“Who was the fifth boy Sumitra saw in identical skeleton robe and who asked for Eclairs?” haunted his mind too with no answer.

 

 

 

 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ma's compassion

(Normally this is the time for the advent of Durga Puja/Navratri but they are on astrological considerations  being celebrated a month hence.Nevertheless I thought a story featuring Kali Ma would be apt now.)

It was a leisurely journey by AC two-tier rom Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Chennai. I have an aversion for reading long novels during train journey as most do. Instead I enjoy conversing with co-passengers drawn from different back grounds. Those days there was no menace of biscuit bandits. The gentleman next to me was a portly man, dark complexioned, clad in white khadar and ash mark on his forehead with kumkum between the brows. He was sporting a rudhraksha mala around his neck. With his eyes closed, he did not appear to evince any interest in the conversation around him.

When he opened his eyes, I smiled at him and asked him,” Are you traveling beyond Chennai?”

” Yes, up to Madurai,” he replied

“Do you reside in Madurai or Kolkata?” I asked wishing to prolong the conversation.

“I belong to Madurai. I came to Kolkata to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineswar and Ramakrishna Ashram at Belur”

“Oh, you must be spiritually inclined. What do you do for living? I hope your family is there.”

He let off a sigh.” I have none. I do not work. It is a long story and I would prefer to talk about it later. I am very tired and would like to rest for some time, “ he said and went up to the upper berth

My curiosity was roused. I was intrigued by his response but waited for him to open up on his own. It was a few hours later when he came down for a cup of coffee, he cleared his throat and talked in low tone that was almost a whisper.

He said with a rueful smile,” You asked me many questions. Let me tell you in my own way. Though it is very personal and unsavoury, I do not mind sharing with you as It will relieve me of my stress somewhat. I belong to Madurai district and born to a very rich landlord. Being the only son, he pampered me a lot. He wanted me to look after the extensive land and the rice mills after my graduation.

I had an aversion for agriculture and the village atmosphere with mud roads, the smell of cow dung and stacks of gunny bags with paddy. I longed to be in Chennai permanently amid the many friends that I had cultivated in college. I had a weakness for watching Tamil films. The village had no theatre facility. There was no television then. My dad’s repeated pleas to assume responsibility to look after the lands and mills fell on deaf ears. He was getting old and falling sick frequently. My parents pressured me to get married to a good looking girl who had studied only up to class 10. They thought this would bind me with home and stop my frequent visits to Chennai. No doubt it did initially.

After the demise of my father a year later, my mother too died in a few months. I was compelled to take charge of the responsibility. Having neither experience nor interest, I could not manage the farm operations. I did not listen to the advice of elderly well-wishers of our family or the loyal employees. It soon started to be a losing proposition and became worse in five years when a distant relative offered to buy up the lands and the house. I jumped at the offer, collected a tidy amount and reached Chennai.”

“Did you not consult your wife or her parents before this momentous decision? “I asked

“My wife was averse to my decision but knew I was adamant by nature and never paid heed to her words. I was never close to my in-laws. I had enough money to live comfortably without working. I bought a nice house in Mylapore, furnished it well, acquired a new car and happily settled down.

Initially it was all hunky dory but gradually I fell into bad company and developed all vices: races, wine and women. Meanwhile my wife had conceived to our great joy. This was not to last long as she developed complications at the time of delivery and passed away giving birth to a still born baby. I started drinking heavily to drown the sorrows. It was in that unguarded moment that one of my friends sowed the idea of taking a film feeding me with rosy stories of successful producers and the good life they had with lady actors.

Being a green horn in the film industry I was surrounded by greedy tricksters with money flowing like water for setting up an office, staff, food and drinks, story discussions at expensive hotel and identifying actresses and actors with tidy advances. It all ended up in making a film that was a total flop and did not last a week. To make a long story short, I lost all my wealth and was saddled with debts. I became an insolvent and virtually thrown out on the road. The ‘friends’ deserted me as was expected. I was also a physical wreck afflicted by a dreaded disease and could not work.”

He stopped there and said that he was tired and that he would continue after dinner. A dismal story, I thought to myself, that we often hear from the cine field and the man went down low in my esteem. Dinner over, he resumed his narration without any prompting.

“With no home I loitered around not knowing where to go and what to do. I had no skills to work having wasted away my life. I was restless having foolishly frittered away all the wealth. To get some peace, I gravitated towards Sri Ramakrishna Mission ashram. I sat there daily for long hours dazed with tears trickling down.

 One day a kindly swamiji in ochre robes patted me gently and said “Do not grieve whatever be the reason. I often see people coming in such state here. Do not give up hope and try to be manly.”

 I narrated him my tale. “It is sad that you have lost both your wife and money. You have also realized with much remorse the wrong way you had led your life thus far. These are the outcomes of prarabda karma. You could not have prevented it. Though relatively young, you look very sick. Would you like to rebuild your life and start afresh?” he asked.

“No, Swamiji, I do not have many years to live and would not like to get into that cesspool again. Can I stay and work in the ashram? To be frank, being a sick person with a deadly disease, I would not like to pollute the ashram”

Swamiji in a consoling voice said” Ashram admits only sanyasins. It is not easy to become sanyasin as the initiation would be done only in deserving cases with the right temperament after a long wait. Many do not turn up again. In your case as you are ill, it is best to spend your remaining years in the vicinity of a temple praying for your salvation. Temples provide food. Hand over whatever money you have to some charitable institution and they may provide room and food.”

“Yes Swamiji, I think this is the best course open to me”

“Do not grieve much. Confessing one’s faults sincerely is a sign of repentance and transformation. I would strongly urge you to visit Dakshineswar before going to your place and pray with devotion to the merciful Ma to give you peace and comfort. I am sure Divine Mother will listen to your prayers and do what is best for you,” the swamiji advised

“I am now going back to Madurai to collect some money kept with a distant relative. I intend to settle down near a famous temple in a nearby district. This journey to Kolkata has made me very weak and my condition worse. Sorry sir, I have burdened you with my depressing story.”

“What did you pray to Kali Ma?” I asked.

“Sorry, I forgot to tell you. It was an undefinable and mesmerizing experience that I had never felt before when I had Her darshan. My mind went totally blank with no thought of me or my needs. I was completely lost in Her divinity and compassion till I was nudged by the crowd of devotees to move. I turned my face towards Her to have one last look and prayed Her to give me peace,” he replied with his eyes becoming moist.

I had no words to comfort him and said “It is getting late. Go to sleep. We will see in the morning”

I was woken up in the morning by the aroma of coffee. When I was having mine, I remembered the gentleman on the top berth. I thought he was catching up with the lost sleep after unburdening his weight on me. An hour went by and breakfast had started coming. I stood up and patted him. When there was no response, I did again and this time with a nudge. There was no movement. A young man went up and shook him only to find him inert and lifeless. I was wonder struck at Ma’s infinite compassion in answering his prayers with such swiftness.

 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The magic of the kite

Dinesh and Savitri along with their six-year-old son had come to South India on a vacation. They had been planning this visit for a long time with Chennai as their last point. Both of them had not seen Marina beach in their life. They had reserved one day in Chennai specially for this purpose.

When they went early in the evening, they were taken in by the bewitching beauty of Marina beach. The warmth of the long stretch of sands, the view of the vast expanse of sea with its roaring waves in the azure back ground and the accompanying cool breeze transported them to heavenly joy. Both had wanted to stand in the water and enjoy the waves lashing at their feet. But they had not envisaged the great problem that arose from their son Varun.

 Ever since he came to the beach, he was cross and irritable. He was scared of the sea with its vast expanse of water and its giant waves. He grumbled that he cannot walk on the sand and complained of pain in the leg. He squatted on the sand sobbing and imploring them not to go near the water. He was throwing up all sorts of tantrums. Not all the cajoling and appeasing with candies, ice cream, and pony ride would make him budge. He stood adamant refusing to move and wailing at the top of his voice. He was afraid the water would swallow them. The couple were at their wit’s end not knowing what to do. They didn’t want to miss enjoying the beach having come this far but were also averse to make the boy cry further.

It was then Varun saw one young boy of his age with his shorts fully drenched in water returning with his dad from the sea shore. He. came running straight towards Varun and surprisingly handed him over the thread of the kite he was keeping afloat. Varun was elated at this unexpected gesture and got immersed in keeping the kite afloat in the sky. He stopped crying and was able to stabilize the kite with the help of his daddy. All his petulance had vanished and he was walking with his parents towards the water. There was no resistance as he was busy keeping the kite in position. Dinesh and Savitri took turns to stand in the water with the waves breaking on their legs, and drenching their clothes. It was an exhilarating and new experience for them. The sun was still shining but they had to leave to catch the night train to Delhi.

When they started walking back, with a reluctant Varun behind them, towards the waiting car on the road, they saw another young boy again of Varun’s age with his parents crying and refusing out of fear to move towards the sea. He too, as Varun did, squatted on the sand, and wailed hysterically with his parents looking helplessly.

Varun was amused. His parents smiled remembering the antics of Varun a couple of hours before. They were surprised when Varun walked towards the crying boy and handed over the thread of the kite that was still floating up in the sky. The same metamorphosis from fear to joy came about in the boy’s face with Varun walking proudly with his parents towards the car.

(Written 11 years back,this story has not been read by most of my current followers)


Saturday, August 22, 2020

A promise hastily made

 The young man was in deep debt. The debtors were pressurising him with threats. He was the sole bread winner for parents and younger siblings. His income was hardly adequate to meet the basic needs of the family.  He could see no way out except to take refuge in God at the temple. He took a bath, applied ash marks prominently on his forehead, arms and chest went to the nearest Vinayak temple. He removed his shirt, stood bare bodied before Lord Ganesha praying devoutly with his eyes in tears.

” Show me a way out of this mess I am in. If I am freed of this burden of debts and the onerous task of looking after the family, I promise to you sincerely that I would renounce the world and be your devotee forever. Kindly show your compassion, “he pleaded.

As there was a jostling crowd in the morning, he chose a corner and sat with his eyes closed to chant His name.1008 times keeping his shirt before him.

Many devotees thought him to be a mendicant and dropped coins, notes and even fruits. Engrossed in prayer, he did not notice this. It took a long time for him and just when he completed the count, the temple bell tolled repeatedly and loudly.as if to signify his prayer was answered.’

The young man rose to jump in joy with his eyes closed unknowingly at the amused smiles of the people at the young man jumping madly as if possessed. When he opened his eyes and saw the small crowd around, he was highly embarrassed and bent to pick his shirt. To his utter bewilderment, he saw the coins, currency notes, fruits and surprisingly a lottery ticket too on and around the shirt. He hurriedly picked them all and made a hasty exit.

He thought someone had left an expired and useless lottery ticket. However, his curiosity overcame his impulse to discard it and found the next day was the day for the results. He was hopeful that Lord would not let him down but had not much hope on the lottery ticket. He put his signature and address behind the lottery ticket as a matter of abundant precaution.

The next day when he went to the bazaar, he was thrilled to find the ticket had won him one crore of rupees. All his problems seemed to vanish in a trice like snowflakes before Sun. Lord Vinayaka in His infinite mercy had answered his prayers. He quickly settled the debts, opened a small grocery store for his father and made proper investments to get regular monthly income.

 After a month his conscience pricked that his part of the prayer remained to be fulfilled, when he saw in the bazaar young and beautiful girls walking past him, the array of textile shops with display of beautiful clothes and the bars and beer beckoning him. He had not gone to temple except once after winning the lottery for elaborate puja and offerings.

Unable to bear the guilt and remorse at his being a cheat, he bought himself an ochre robe and gave away the pant and shirt to a beggar. He decided to move away from family and the town., His mind was restless as he sat in the temple in his yellow robes. Tears trickled from his eyes as he realized it was not easy to take to Sanyas.It was a foolish promise made in haste but he cannot fail to keep it. He was in a quandary not knowing how to get out of this tricky situation that he had invited upon himself. His eyes were closed in deep thought at his predicament.

It was then he heard the voice,” Cut, pack up. The day’s shooting is over.”. The garishly rich young man, smiled at the director and readied to get into the sleek car as the door was opened by his chauffeur.